Thursday, November 08, 2007

Apes Evolved From Conservative Talk Show Hosts

Election's over, enough local politics for a minute!

As a guy who strives to provide a different voice in Fitchburg, I ingest a lot of media that I quite frankly can't stand. But unless you know what other people are saying you're in no position to point out that they're often totally wrong. That's why I read skim the Sentinel thoroughly for things to make fun of and that's why I occasionally listen to the horrible Chuck Morse show on WEIM.

I happened to be listening last night while Morse went off about how people who believe the theory of evolution is correct (i.e. everyone with even a basic grasp of science) are big fat jerks. Now, I may be a big jerk, but I'm not fat. Morse also updated his terrible blog with information about it! Incidentally, I think his blog gets even fewer readers than his radio show has listeners, which might put it into negative numbers somehow.

Morse is clearly neither a scientist nor a theologian. Nor does he seem to have any real understanding of science or theology. You'd think that would make him unqualified to have a meaningful discussion of the evolution vs creationism "controvery," and you'd be right!

But funny thing about evolution. Most scientific theories are debated by scientists. If some radio host started going off on a totally uninformed tirade about the theory of relativity people would just laugh at him. But evolution has been politicized to the point where anyone who's even heard of Darwin can rant about how horrible evolutionary theory is and have a similarly uninformed subset of idiots believe him.

But this is science, not politics. So let's get to the facts, shall we?

First, a quote from Morse's blog so you can see where this all came from:
I am proud of comedian, author, economist, and former presidential speechwriter Ben Stein for taking on the thorny issue of evolution versus intelligent design in his new film "Expelled - No Intelligence Allowed" due to be released in theatres [sic] February, 2008.

Besides delving into the raucous debate over the scientific legitimacy of Darwinism, the theory that claims that man randomly developed from muck and was formed by mutating over millions of years, the movie also documents the Stalinist tactics of the darwiniacs, the devout cult followers of this questionable theory.
Hmm, okay. Ben Stein was a teacher in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." And though I don't see "scientist" or "theologian" in his credentials either, people seem to be under the odd impression that he's kind of smart.

After all, he had that show where people tried to steal his money, right? No way could that have been set up to mostly ask questions that he'd be likely to know the answers to!

Morse, as usual, began spouting things that just aren't true right away. There's absolutely no "raucous debate over the scientific legitimacy of Darwinism." There's a political debate, not a scientific one. Sure, there are debates within the field of evolutionary biology, but they're about elements of the theory, not the legitimacy of the theory as a whole. Nor is the theory "questionable" in the usual sense. All scientific theories are open to questioning, but the validity of the theory isn't in doubt in the scientific community (it's only in doubt by the moron community).

Also, evolutionary theory doesn't really claim that "man randomly developed from muck." It has little to say about the origins of life, and is really about the development of life after that point (which actually means it's not even incompatible with a "creator," but more about that later). He's right about mutations being important though, so good for him getting at least one fact right!

Morse talked last night about how he considers evolutionary theory "just a theory," and how he wrote a column several years ago that said that and got a lot of criticism. Chuck Morse apparently does not know the difference between a "theory" (as used by the general public) and a "scientific theory" (as used by scientists, natch). This is a common argument used by similarly-confused creationists, like the Cobb County Board of Education, whose unconstitutional sticker for textbooks is reproduced below.



Anyway, here's a link that explains the difference in ways even Morse should be able to understand. For those of you too lazy to follow it or that need a refresher, in a nutshell:
A theory is more like a scientific law than a hypothesis. A theory is an explanation of a set of related observations or events based upon proven hypotheses and verified multiple times by detached groups of researchers. One scientist cannot create a theory; he can only create a hypothesis.

In general, both a scientific theory and a scientific law are accepted to be true by the scientific community as a whole. Both are used to make predictions of events. Both are used to advance technology...

A theory is developed only through the scientific method, meaning it is the final result of a series of rigorous processes. Note that a theory never becomes a law unless it was very narrow to begin with...

...Real scientific theories must be falsifiable. So-called "theories" based on religion, such as creationism or intelligent design are, therefore, not scientific theories. They are not falsifiable and they do not follow the scientific method.
Pretty simple, no?

Evolutionary theory, of course, is a scientific theory. One that's as well-proven and accepted as quantum theory or the theory of relativity. It's open to debate and revision, but outright rejection of evolutionary theory would require some pretty dramatic evidence against it.

Back to Morse:
Stein reveals how how [sic] educators, scientists and commentators have been publically [sic] denounced, scorned, and in some cases denied tenure and even fired for the “crime” of believing that there might be evidence of design” [sic] in nature.
Maybe that's true. I don't know. If a science teacher is denying evolution in favor of creationism I'd certainly deny him tenure. Similarly, I'd deny him tenure if he was staying the Earth is flat or that gravity only exists because God keeps shoving everything to the ground. Science teachers are supposed to teach science, not crackpot theories.

Come to think of it, evolution is probably better understood than gravity (which works, but isn't well-explained). Probably even better than quantum theory (which is just incredibly hard to wrap your head around). Quantum theory is accepted as fact though, because it explains how the world works with incredible accuracy. Evolutionary theory does the same thing. And that's what a scientific theory is about! If it works, it's a good theory. If it doesn't, it's rejected and hopefully replaced by a better one. Hurrah for science!

Morse seems to have a touch of PTSD from his dramatic loss when he ran against Barney Frank for Congress:
I had my own run-in on this issue when I ran for Congress in Massachusetts against Barney Frank in 2004. In his opposition research, Frank had uncovered an article I had written that (gasp) questioned Darwin's theory of evolution. He brought this up during a joint television appearance on NECN - Nightline with Chet Curtis and Jim Braude.

Frank looked angry as he exposed what he considered to be a bombshell, a shocking scandal. By questioning Darwinism, I was not to be taken seriously. [blah blah blah]
Yeah, indeed Morse shouldn't be taken seriously. But it's not for "questioning Darwinism," it's just for being really really dumb. I wouldn't take someone who denies the Holocaust seriously, I wouldn't take someone who denies the theory of relativity seriously, I wouldn't take someone who thought that when I hit the button to open my garage door invisible pixies flew over to it in order to do the heavy lifting seriously, and I wouldn't take someone who denies evolution seriously.

It's not about asking questions (science actually encourages that), it's about intelligence. If you question evolution intelligently then you should be taken seriously. If you deny it wholesale because your invisible friend in the sky told you to then you absolutely should not be taken seriously.

Morse ends his blog post with this paragraph:
Darwin's evolution is the cornerstone of the secular faith because it removes the possibility of God. Thus, God is replaced by the State which is, according to the secular faith, charged with the moral responsibility to evolve man. This was the faith of the ancient pagans, the idol-worshippers of biblical times. The state set up an idol, such as Baal, and dictated the means of worship down the lines of supporting "enlightened" state power. This also gave the King, who controlled the false idol, the moral pretext to denounce and remove his enemies. Perhaps not much has changed.
Okay, ignore for a minute that most of it makes no damn sense and let's just focus on this idea that evolution=atheism. Morse doesn't come right out and say that in his blog, but he did on the radio. As we've come to expect, it too is totally made up.

Of course there are plenty of atheists who accept evolution as fact. The brilliant Richard Dawkins is perhaps one of the best-known evolutionary biologists at work today, and has taken an extremely strong stance against religion (and I dare anyone of faith to read The God Delusion without questioning what they believe). But there are plenty of others in the field who believe in a god.

One very well-known evolutionary biologist who also believed in a god was the late Stephen Jay Gould. Gould introduced the concept of Non-Overlapping Magesteria, which boiled down to a belief that religion and science are seperate "magisteria" with nothing to say about each other. For that matter even the Vatican under John Paul II has endorsed evolution, though I think the current pope isn't on board with that anymore.

The head of the Human Genome Project, Francis Collins, has also espoused the theory of Theistic Evolution (TE). I happen to disagree with Collins (personally I'm a Pastafarian), but the fact that so many respected biologists are clearly theists pretty effectively debunks Morse's claim.

As for Theistic Evolution, it's the belief "that religious teachings about creation and scientific theories of evolution need not be contradictory." And indeed, they need not! Who's to say that a god didn't set evolution in motion? That'd be a pretty clever trick! Certainly smarter than creating men with nipples and all humans with an appendix that does nothing except sometimes get inflamed and kill people!

One last thing I want to address. Morse talked a lot last night about how he got so much anger and hatred and so forth for his evolution denial. He seemed baffled by it, and suggested that evolutionary theory was the one thing in this country you're not allowed to question.

Now, I'd actually argue that other people's religious beliefs are the one thing you're not allowed to question, but let's just go with this...

Chuck, the reason people react so strongly is because you're totally uninformed about the subject you're discussing. To reject evolution at this point is (rightfully) seen by many people as a sign both of ignorance and of a desire to impose your religious beliefs on others.

No question here, so-called "Intelligent Design" is just creationism in fancy clothes. Its goal is to get God into the public schools, which is clearly forbidden by the Constitution. If you endorse gutting the Bill of Rights, you're going to piss people off. People who are pissed off are going to react strongly. It's not just atheists, it's anyone who respects the First Amendment.

I haven't focused much on the creationism side of this argument, because I believe it to be nonsense. You can believe it if you like, but the instant that belief turns into a desire to corrupt the minds of our children with fairy tales when they should be learning real science, you earn yourself an enemy. And I'm hardly alone in that.

Question evolution all you want, but learn a thing or two about it first. Try reading a book that doesn't agree with your religious preconceptions once in awhile. Just being a dumbass won't get you far.

12 comments:

Chuck Morse said...

No matter how much you spin, the fact remains that the theory of evolution is unproven and this is admitted by most scientists. The unproven theory is presented as fact in elementary school. This is dishonest and runs against the spirit of scientific inquiry which is supposed to consider all possible factors in the study of nature.

The Unicow said...

Oh Chuck, you didn't really read that link did you?

You still don't seem to understand that no scientific theory is ever "proven." They're all open to revision and questioning. That's how science works, and doesn't make the theory any less accurate.

Evolutionary theory is very much proven to work as an accurate explanation of how the world functions and predictor of how it will continue to function. It explains why the flu shot you'll need next year will be different from the flu shot you got this year, for example.

Would you have us not teach physics students about the theories I mentioned because they're similarly "unproven"? Perhaps you would, but you'd be robbing them of a chance to better understand the universe.

Anyway, even if one grants that evolution is "unproven," it's pretty damn close. Creationism/ID is by all standards totally unproven. Yet you espouse the teaching of that totally untested/untestable theory. Seems a bit intellectually dishonest to me, unless you just want to open up schools to teaching every crackpot theory around.

Scientific inquiry has already considered creationism (as a "possible factor") and rejected it as not science. It's not even in the realm of science, since it's unfalsifiable. There are plenty of books I can point you to if you want some examples of scientific critiques of creationism.

Also, evolution is generally taught in more than just elementary school. It's in high school, college, even grad school! Amazing, huh?

This isn't about spin, Chuck. It's about science. Something you clearly have absolutely zero understanding of.

ReallyRachel said...

Having grown up in a right wing Christian fundamentalist environment, being hammered and shamed for having the audacity as a female to dare suggest that women had brains and intellect, having Creationism and Christian fundamentalism shoved down my throat in a Southern public school where participation in Christian public prayer was required - on the intercom at the beginning of lunch, I'm going to respond simply to Mr. Morse.

I suggest sir, that your real disagreement is not between Evolutionists and Creationists. Rather, your real controversy is between those who use their G-d given intellect to think and reason for themselves and those who insist that we all walk in lockstep.

The purpose of our public schools is to teach children to think in a religion-neutral atmosphere, free from all coercion based upon a religious philosophy. Parents who chose to educate their children in religious philosophy are perfectly free to do so - in their homes, their churches, their mosques, their synagogues or other places of worship. Indeed, they are free to send their children to privately funded schools or even to home school them.

Personally, it is my great privilege to be a Jew By Choice. One of the great treasures for me of my belief system is not just the freedom but actual responsibility to use my mind, to question, to learn and to continually seek. No one tells me what to believe, and asking questions, studying, investigating, discussing and debating the aspects of any given subject is a process that is highly encouraged, not shamed. The gift of our intellect and reasoning is so cherished that among the eighteen blessings for which some of us give thanks three times per day is the gift of "intelligence, knowledge, discernment and wisdom."

For people like me, how we got here and how the world was made is much less of a concern than what we are to do with it now, and what we each do to preserve and improve the world and circumstances for its inhabitants - our "neighbors". For some of us, science itself is a gift from our Creator and the more we discover and learn, the more in awe of Him/Her we are.

Religious indoctrination is a control tactic based upon fear. Religion has been used for too long as a weapon to control and dominate people. It has no place in our government, and it has no place in our publicly funded schools. If you want to teach your children "anti-science", and indoctrinate them in Christian Fundamentalism, by all means do so - but do so at home or in a private school, not, sir with my tax dollars.

Most sincerely - Shalom

The Unicow said...

I think you hit the nail on the head Rachel.

The creationists don't really care about the quality of science education one bit. Hell, they don't even have a basic understanding of what science is.

At its core, this is about trying to force public-school kids to be taught the particular Judeo-Christian creation myth as if it were fact. The lies about evolution are just the method they employ in attempting to reach that grossly unconstitutional goal.

ReallyRachel said...

Unicow,
Only one correction. Creationism is NOT a "Judeo-Christian" myth. There is no "Judeo" in Creationism as the Christian Fundamentalists would have us believe. (Neither is this a Judeo-Christian country as was taught to some of us in right wing public school.)

For centuries even Orthodox Rabbis have propounded that the more science demonstrates evolution, the more plausible it is that evolution is an ordered process rather than chaos. And the whole question is really quite a minor one to us. Far more important than "how did we get here" is "why are we here" and "what are we meant to do to make things better for everyone."

I want to stress that my opinion is just that, as there is no "official Jewish position" on evolution vs. creation, and I am neither Jewish scholar nor theologian. Just a thinking Jew.

But the one fact is that this is not, nor has it ever been, a "Judeo-Christian" position. It is solely a Christian position.

Indeed, we "Judeos" are far more interested in how we can utilize science to alleviate suffering and improve life on this planet - as "partners in creation", i.e., how we can be a part of the orderly plan of evolution.

I wonder if there are bloggers from other backgrounds - Buddhist, Taoist among others .... who would care to participate in this discussion. I yield the floor.

Shalom

The Unicow said...

Rachel,

By "Judeo-Christian creation myth" I was simply referring to the account of creation as found in Genesis (and taken literally). Sorry if that was unclear.

That account, of course, is the one (out of many, many different myths) actually being pushed here. Nobody's promoting teaching the Norse creation myth as science. And it's a pretty neat one! I still favor the Flying Spaghetti Monster though.

While I agree that those pushing for creationism in schools are typically evangelical Christians, I don't believe it's limited to them.

Their religious leaders may have accepted evolution, but there are certainly some Catholics, Jews, and non-evangelical Protestants still pushing creationism. If I'm not mistaken, Morse himself is Jewish.

ReallyRachel said...

Unicow,
Morse's religion is not my concern, but his publicly expressed opinions so far as they concern public school education is definitely my concern.

Just so people understand, Morse's views are his own and very much a minority philosophy, much like his half-baked November 4 blog commentary about making American meat "kosher" (by his own standards.) This man is off in la-la land somewhere, and he thrives on being "controversial." That's what gets him attention.

Certainly there are a few people other than the "Moral Majority" who espouse Creationism as the be-all, end-all. In my opinion they are both misguided and narrow minded.

My point is that in their organized attempt to discredit scientific thought and theory that itself has "evolved" over centuries of inquiry, they are in fact promoting a religious view that is well kept outside our classrooms except as an incidental hypothesis.

I personally don't care whether we evolved from adults Adam and Eve or a grain of sand. I care more that we are here now and have bigger fish to fry than which came first, the chicken or the egg. And I definitely care whether my grandchildren are brainwashed with fairy tales and taught not to think for themselves.

I personally believe that G-d created the world. That's my personal belief, and not one to push onto anyone else. Just exactly HOW this was accomplished, or the actual makeup of a "day" during the creation process, I really don't lose sleep over.

I lose far more sleep over what causes sarcoidosis and how can it be cured, or at least treated.

Put some thought and effort into that one, Mr. Morse, and the world will thank you.

Shalom

Chuck Morse said...

There are many criterion for proving science and, in fact, the purpose if science is to identify realities in nature and than to use that knowledge to improve human life. A theory, whether scientific or political, can also be judged by its consequences and the only thing that emanated from Darwin's theory of evolution was the psuedo-science of eugenics or race theory.

Regarding Rachel's concern over coercion, the only force being invoked is over in the teaching of the theory of evolution. No mention of intelligent design is allowed. Anyone who does risks public denouncement and possible loss of job.

The Unicow said...

Oh Chuck,

Repeating the same bullshit over and over doesn't make it turn true!

First, the only scientific criteria necessary for evolution to be considered "proven" are already met. Whatever your made-up criteria (that's the plural of criterion, by the way) are that it apparently isn't meeting are surely not scientific.

The "purpose" of science isn't to improve human life, though it often leads to that. Its sole purpose is to provide a framework in which to figure out what is and what is not true.

As for this:
A theory, whether scientific or political, can also be judged by its consequences and the only thing that emanated from Darwin's theory of evolution was the psuedo-science of eugenics or race theory.
... it's so misguided as to be laughable.

1) The validity of a scientific theory is in absolutely no way affected by how it's used or misused. Nature doesn't care.

2) Eugenics wasn't a pseudo-science, it was a social philosophy. A rather terrible one, at that. It used evolution as an excuse for shit, but has nothing to do with evolutionary theory.

3) Do you seriously think the only thing to come from evolutionary theory is eugenics? Seriously? I thought you were pretty ignorant, but are you really that ignorant? Because holy fuck if you are.

Learn a little about what you're talking about once in awhile, Chuck. It would do wonders for you.

The Unicow said...

FYI,

Tonight at 8 on PBS there's supposed to be an episode of Nova about the evolution vs ID dispute. Obviously I haven't seen it yet, but Nova's usually pretty interesting (and very well-grounded in science).

The website for the program is also pretty nice, and can be found here.

(Chuck, I'd refer you to this page on the site. Particularly Barbara Forrest's debunking of the old "it's only a theory" claim.)

Looks like an interesting show. Those of you with actual intellectual curiosity might find it interesting.

Thosh said...

You lost me after you trivialized the work of the great Ben Stein, who "graduated from Columbia University in 1966 with honors in economics and as valedictorian of the 1970 Yale Law School class. He has worked as a poverty lawyer, a trial lawyer, a university adjunct (American University, University of California at Santa Cruz and Pepperdine University), a speech writer for Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Herald Examiner, King Features Syndicate, Los Angeles Magazine, New York Magazine, E! Online and The American Spectator. He also writes frequently for The Washington Post. Stein has written and published 16 books..." and so on. I dare say that's a mark of intellect you can't touch.

The Unicow said...

Thosh,

Way to ignore the whole substance of the post!

I'm pretty sure being a speechwriter for one criminal president and one totally forgettable one and writing columns for E! Online is a pretty reachable mark of intellect, and certainly says nothing about the guy's understanding of science (which is obviously nil).

Hey, know who else writes a whole lot of shit? Bill Kristol. He's also been wrong about virtually everything he's ever written.

Stein's probably a pretty bright guy about some things. In fact, there are plenty of reasonably bright people out there who still say things that are totally wrong. Take them outside their realm of knowledge and it gets even worse.

Yeah, I'm not surprised I lost you.